Deb and Chuck’s Year of Volunteer Service in Malawi in 2023
Dear Friends and Family,
I only have jumbled thoughts, and impressions, and no understanding of anything. I do not understand the beauty and the struggle and the suffering of a Nation. How do I contrast what I see here with who I am, who I am as a person of faith who wants to live out my faith; and how I live when I am in Bushkill, PA, with the life we’re living now in Malawi. Dr John Koessler tells the lament of a preacher: “My preaching is better than my praying and my praying is better than my life.” I can relate to this…. “my praying is better than my life.” How do I live?? How do I live when others have so little and suffer so much? What is my motivation in life and in relation to others? Do I really care? I am seeking understanding, learning, growth, to learn how to serve, and serve here….for what? The Glory of God.
I have been reading Matthew 6, the Beatitudes: “Blessed are the poor….” I have so much to learn from them. I was with the chaplains this week. The one chaplain did not want to go home at the end of the day until he prayed with the others. Nothing is taken for granted, not even the way home. The way home was covered in prayer.
This week I went on home visits with the hospital staff. I went with a chaplain, 3 nurses, a social worker and the driver of the hospital vehicle. We saw three palliative patients at their homes. Two had cancer and they were doing relatively well. The third patient has sickle cell disease; she out of 3 of the 5 crucial medications she takes. She has been fainting. Is she fainting because of the lack of food, the lack of medication or ? This precious girl is 9 years old. The team decided to send someone out by motorcycle in the coming week to deliver the medication she needs. This girl’s mother is a young widow, and lives with her mother who is a widow and there are several children in the home. They have no money. We gave them maize. Everyone we visited received maize.
There is a primary and secondary public school here. Most classes have about 80 children. The youngest of children walk to school (without parents). I like saying hi to the children (and vice versa). We say hi, high-five, high-five high and low and they are delighted with the attention. I did speak to one secondary teacher walking on the road this week. She teaches biology to 150 high school students!! Oh my!!
I am amazed at the high number of children who do not attend school in the many rural villages. Children not in school is due to many factors–their parents do not have enough money for school uniforms, some villages are more Muslim in which education is de-emphasized, generational beliefs/attitudes effects children going to school, and more. Our neighbor who is from Canada has lived here a long time. She has told us that life here is affected by many layers, and there are many layers to understand. We are just beginning to learn about the less obvious layers.
So, the children who are not in school might tend to the goats. One might see 2-3 boys walking with the goats throughout the village. We were hiking this week. All through the mountain side you could hear the chatter of children tending goats, and cows. Some were picking up sticks for the family fire, and others just hanging around. Oh, I wish all children could go to school.
Throughout our hike, we so enjoyed the beautiful countryside and all the plots of maize being grown by everyone on any piece of available land. There are many more mountains to explore in this area.
I was planning to do nursing here in Malawi. I had a setback. We were not informed of all the required paperwork to complete before arriving, so it will take more time to get through the red tape and get to nursing. The song in chapel (the hospital staff meets weekly for a morning service), this week was the old hymn I Surrender All. Nursing is so much of me and who I am. I surrender all….even my nursing. There are many ways that I can serve.
We have been here one week today. Our life as we know it has drastically changed. We marvel at all that is around us, feeling grateful and blessed. We are blessed that you are in our lives sharing in this journey.
With prayers and thanks, Deb
Two weeks today! And in these two weeks:
Our most sincere gratitude for your interest, encouragement and donations.
We hope you are all well. We are thankful for good health especially as there is currently a big cholera outbreak. The hospital has had to bring in a second big American Red Cross tent to handle all the cases. I heard last Sunday alone they admitted 69 patients. This small hospital is full and more are arriving from near and far.
Because the people here are so poor and there are fees at the hospital, they wait too long to come. In many cases it is too late by the time they arrive. There have been many deaths and funerals this week. Most Malawians know someone who has died in just the past week or two, including the local minister’s mother and sibling. One of the chaplains has had 3 deaths in his family.
I thought I would share a bit of what our life is like in the midst of this bigger picture of all that goes on within this Synod village campus.
We start our day with the squawking loud noises of the many chickens and roosters that freely roam everywhere you go. (Truly, they are free range chickens.) I am actually getting used to their morning call and on a good day can sleep in till 6:30 am. Then we slide out from under the mosquito netting that totally envelops our beds.
Breakfast has always been Chuck’s favorite meal; a long tradition in the Monts family. The big breakfast has continued here. The unique part of breakfast everyday without fail is a cup of Artemisia (helps prevent Malaria), which looks and tastes like what we imagine chopped-up green grass to be: bitter and grainy. I don’t like it and have to psych myself up to drink it while Chuck gulps it down like O.J..
Chuck began teaching at the seminary this past week. He did not get his teaching assignment and books ahead of time plus he is a first year teacher, so he’s spending a lot of time preparing to teach his courses–the Gospel of John & Acts and The Pentateuch & Books of History in the O.T.. The seminary is about a 5-10 minute walk from the guest house where we live. Since their English is not good enough to take notes, Chuck types out their notes for them, but, thus far, he hasn’t passed out the notes because the seminary’s copier either doesn’t have electric or is broken-down.
Chuck has already had his students come after class for pancakes. It was their first taste of pancakes and syrup! They are nice young men and we had a thoughtful conversation about our journeys of faith around the table.
Chuck has a following of elementary-aged kids that come running when they see him with his frisbee on the football (soccer) field. He has dreams of teaching them to play ultimate frisbee.
When I go for walks, there are many children wandering around. All levels of schooling, including elementary school, include fees and the cost of uniforms and books, so many children do not attend. Other families send their kids not to school but to beg for money. So many children go to bed and wake up hungry. I have seen the tiniest of pencils or a child using just the inside of pen which barely has any ink in it.
This is the rainy season and the season when there is a lot of hunger because maize isn’t harvested for another month or two. The reserves of food are mostly gone. People plant every possible piece of land with maize though very few can afford the inflated costs of fertilizer these days.
So, when I walk I see many children. I say hi to everyone. There are groups of little girls who come running when they see me. We high five, count, and this week I taught them the hokey pokey right out on the roadway. We just giggle while not understanding each other’s language.
As we walk we see many different things, we see goats tied flat to bicycle racks to take to the market. Men use bicycles as forms of cargo-transportation of heavy firewood, grain, you-name-it. The bikes are in terrible condition and are single-speed, so the men push their bicycles up and then ride them down hills. Most often, the pedals are just the metal posts onto which the rubber pedals are normally attached, and many of the bicyclists have no shoes!
There are two kinds of taxi’s we see as we walk. We see overcrowded mini-vans usually with a few guys partially hanging out of the van windows. We also see motorcycle taxis; they cut their motors while coasting downhill to save gas. We have seen motorcycles with a family of four plus the driver! There are few if any safety-laws.
The Dean of the nursing school and the assistant dean have been very good to me and have gone the extra mile in order to have me accepted by the local and governmental nursing boards.. The required paperwork is actually unrealistic, expecting me to produce course outlines and professors’ qualifications from 1982.
In the meantime, I have been working with the chaplains who have been extra kind to include me in anything that I am interested in which includes praying with patients and palliative home visits.
We have met wonderful Malawians, and Malawian Christians doing good work. For example, one of the chaplains has a booth where he makes furniture. The quality of his work and skills are humbling and mystifying as he has primarily only manual tools. He is known in the area for his work, expanding his business to train others and mentor their Christian journey. He hopes someday for better tools and a building rather than an open-air booth in which to keep safe his tools and materials.
This place has a international flare with long-term workers from Canada, Netherlands, Germany, China. Five new nursing students arrived from the Netherlands to do a four-month rotation. I have already had the chance to hike with them.
You can predict the weather every day. A weather forecast is not needed because it is always the same: warm and sunny for a few hours followed by a few hours of torrential rain. The plants, flowers, and flowering trees and bushes are so beautiful at this time of year but will be turning brown by August. You can also count on no electricity for some or all of the day. Thank goodness for a LED flashlights we brought to read and study by most evenings.
We are learning a lot, adapting as we need to and ever grateful to grow as persons and in faith. We are being well-stretched. I have a Christian woman from Canada who has been here long term to talk through the things I see. She is a prayer warrior. It has been so encouraging to have someone like her to talk to and most of all pray with. She has encouraged all things to be given to God. As the beatitudes says… blessed are the poor….. When you are “poor” there is a greater chance that all hurts, generational sins, our comings and our goings, needs, etc….make us desperate and more likely to turn to God. May all things be given to God. May it be so.
Love and Prayers
“In him was Life and that Life was the light of all the world”—John 1:4
“Whenever you have given (shared Life with), to one of the least of these, you’ve done for me”—Matt. 25:40
Being here just a month today, normal surface things of life as well as deeper more grace-filled Life have become both more dynamic and fraught.
(You might want to take a break and finish the 2nd half later.)
The fraught nature of things:
Here’s what we are going to do. Our wise Malawian friend who came to dinner this past week said, “Take time to learn where your money can help the most people—perhaps students living on campus who, if they can pay their tuition, can’t afford much to eat; perhaps an outlying village that has so few resources and needs so much help; perhaps the hospital that serves so many desperate people, offering social services & performing vitally necessary surgeries while charging the people just $20 for procedures that cost at least 5X that much, even though surgeons from other countries are donating their services. (Torrential rainfall & wind outside as I write this while Deb has left to make home-visits to outlying village on terrible muddy “roads.”)
So, friends & acquaintances from the United States, so many of you have already been so generous with us, donating over $23,000 to our yearlong service in Malawi: THANK YOU! We think these donations will carry us through more than adequately). So, from this point on, monies donated will go exclusively to Malawians. For instance, the 20-yaer-old university student, Izekisiya, teaching us Chichewa, is going to need $350 to pay her tuition fee; two staffers here at the Guest House are being laid-off in May–their only source of income–so we are going to cover the costs of their services at least 2-3 days a week for Frederick, who makes food & the best bread for the staff and House-guests, and Sim, who raises vegetables for the House guests & his family.
Due to your generosity, we have already been able to contribute $3000 to various needs within the Synod, the hospital & the seminary; while these initial donations from us do not amount to much life/Life-giving, it’s a start, while we follow our Malawian friend’s advice: to assess projects that will serve the greatest needs of the most people for the long-term. (We will alert you to these projects as they become more apparent to us.)
Please know that we are not trying to “double-dip” from those who have already made generous donations to our service in Malawi; this appeal is especially for those who may be following our stories and posts, who are very supportive of and prayerful about of our service in Malawi, but have not yet donated via our website: montsmalawimission.org or by sending a check to First Presbyterian Church of Stroudsburg, 575 Main St., Stroudsburg, PA, 18360. ($10/$25/$50/$100 goes incredibly far!)
“That They May Have Life More Abundantly,” (John 10:10)
I hope all is well. I am here again with my confession. Yikes. I have taken things for granted. The very life and breathe of this day. Giving God all honor and endless praise. The Christians here are fully aware of their dependency on God for food and shelter and clothing and safety, and any movement of their day in coming and going.
I have started to help in the skills lab of the Nursing College. I work with an RN in charge and an assistant. I am really impressed with the college’s skills lab, and the amount of simulation equipment, and the competencies of the students who must perform with proficiency before going to clinical.
The assistant in the skills lab name is Patricia. She is a Christian, single mom of three. She struggles daily to meet her family’s needs on 160,000 kwacha ($150 dollars) a month to pay for rent, water, food, clothes, school fees, and a babysitter while she is at work. She has no electricity in her home. I am uncertain of anything else like a bathroom or furniture. Does she have a cement floor or dirt floor? There is a daily struggle for food during the rainy season while the garden of maize is growing. There are days that she does not eat. There is a local bread maker who gets 25 cents for baking delicious whole wheat and white bread and rolls. There are people hustling to work, but the salaries hardly sustain.
With her situation, Patricia, she has a total awareness of God, her need for God and total trust in God for the details of her life and family’s life. She is at peace in knowing that God will provide and she has a spirit of thankfulness. She is a blessing to me daily as she witnesses to God in her life. We enjoy working and talking together daily.
Another remarkable person that we have met is Izekisiya. She was 25 years old on Saturday. Her teacher recommended her as our Chichewa teacher. (We are slowly progressing students). The most predominant thing about her is her love and trust in God. She seeks God in all things and has a sense of praying without ceasing.
Her life is a challenge in that she is one of 9 children. She is in the university to become a teacher, graduating in August. She is already a teacher and preacher to the youth in the area and one of the leaders in the young adult group at church. She has no help from her parents; her dad is not really in the picture. She stays with friends because her home is far away. She is a remarkable, intelligent, faithful, responsible person. She struggles with tuition fees that are $350 a semester.
Frank is a dedicated Christian who witnesses to his faith in how he conducts business and mentors his employees in Christian discipleship. His furniture is known throughout the region despite having a work-stall in the village made of sticks and sheet-metal. He dreams of some better tools and an enclosed workshop to keep his equipment and furniture safe. He is also a chaplain at the hospital as his FT job.
In addition to working at the seminary and at the School of Nursing, Chuck and I are discerning how best to give sacrificially based on two objectives. One objective of our giving is investing in the immediate emergency needs of people we have come to know personally; our second objective is discerning which service organizations are helping the most people most efficiently. There is a Christian nonprofit group here that trains and feeds the disabled in the area. The people who work in this organization have severe physical, vision and hearing deficits. The organization provides their group with meals and teaches them skills. They are known throughout the area for their sewing skills. Given material and an idea, they can make anything. The kind young man who waited on me at the sewing store “walks” with shoes on his hands, and on his knees with while his feet are dragged along. I am amazed at what they do. We would encourage you to prayerfully consider ways to give.
Accordingly, Chuck and I have decided to use any and all additional donations to our year in Malawi exclusively on the needs of individuals in financial crisis and for organizations doing tremendous service with or on behalf of those most in need. We have capped our receiving of personal donations at $20,000 for our year here, and have given $3000 of donations made to us to deserving individuals and organizations. We would love to give so much more, and we will give every dollar donated to us to others from this point forward. We would love to donate to Malawians as much as we have accepted for ourselves ($20,000). If you have yet to donate, please know $5, $10, $25, $50, $100 goes so very far here in Malawi. For more information about Malawi and ways to donate, please see our website at montsmalawimission.org.
One of the chaplains has said to me, “you are an encouragement just being here.” I confess I have a hard time understanding this. It makes me ask, “Is Jesus, the light of the world,” shining through me? Yet, in Matt 5:14 -16, Jesus says we are the light of the world and not to hide our light. May our light, your light and mine, shine so as others might see and praise our Father in heaven.